On power, urbanism and technology. From Internationale Situationniste #10 (March 1966).
Perspectives for a Generation - Théo Frey
An insane society proposes to manage its future by spreading the use of technically improved and collective straightjackets (houses, cities, real-estate developments), which it imposes on us as a remedy for its ills. We are invited to accept and to recognize this prefabricated "non-organic body" as our own; Power intends to enclose the individual in another, radically different self. In order to accomplish this task, a vital one for itself as well as its flunkies (urbanists, real-estate developers), it can count on the misguided souls currently working overtime in the so-called social sciences. Servants, in particular, of an "anthropology" that is no longer speculative but structural and operational, they busy themselves in extricating one more "human nature," but this time a directly usable one, like the police register, for various conditioning techniques. The final result of the process thus undertaken (assuming that the rising strength of the new opposition that everywhere accompanies it gives it enough leisure) henceforth appears as the modernized version of a solution that has proven itself, the concentration camp, here deconcentrated all over the planet. People in it will be absolutely free, especially to come and go, to circulate, while being total prisoners of that futile freedom to come and go in the byways of Power.
The dominant society, which has nowhere been mastered (eliminated) by us, can only master itself by dominating us. The convergence of present forms of development for living space little by little makes this domination concrete. A room, an apartment, a house, a neighborhood, a town, a whole territory can and must be developed step by step or simultaneously: with no transition from "how to live happily in a large housing project" (Elle) to how "to make this society agreeable for everyone" (Le Monde). Present-day society, in its proclaimed desire, as sick as it is ingenious, to survive, falls back entirely on a growth that can do nothing but develop in a dull way the ridiculous potentialities that are the only ones permitted by its own rationale, the logic of the market. Which means that political economy, as the "logical conclusion of the denial of humanity," pursues its destructive work. Everywhere there is a spectacular clash between divergent economic theories and policies, but nowhere are the absurd imperatives of political economy itself challenged and bourgeois economic categories abolished in practice for the benefit of a free (post-economic) construction of situations, and therefore of all life, on the basis of the currently concentrated and squandered powers in "advanced" societies. This colonization of the future in the name of a past that deserves to be so utterly abandoned that the memory of it be lost presupposes the systematic reduction of any possible radical alternative, though such are quite present in all manifestations of our oppressive society, so much so that things seem to persist in "going off the tracks," when they are forced to.
This miserable feat of prestidigitation reveals its trademark from the start: ideology, albeit an upside-down, mutilated reflection of the real world and Praxis, but an ideology the practice of which makes what appears to be upside-down and distorted, and not just in the heads of intellectuals and other ideologues, enter into reality: the world turned upside-down in earnest. This modern process of reducing the gap between life and its representation for the benefit of a representation that turns back on its assumptions is merely an artificial, caricatured, spectacular resolution of real problems posed by the widespread revolutionary crisis of the modern world, a "simulacrum" of resolution that will fall at the same time as the greater number of illusions that continue to foster it.
Power lives by our incapacity to live, it maintains splits and separations infinitely multiplied, while at the same time planning occasions that are allowed to happen almost the way it likes. Its masterstroke is still its successful dissociation of everyday life as space-time, individual and social, from the presently possible indissoluble reconstruction of ourselves and the world, for the purpose of separately and jointly controlling time and space and ultimately reducing both one and the other, the one by the other. The progress of these operations visibly betrays the seriousness of an effort in which the sinister vies with the burlesque. The aim is the constitution of a "homogenous," perfectly "integrated" space, formed by the addition of "homologous" functional blocks, structured hierarchically (the famous "hierarchical network of towns, innervating and coordinating a region of a given size, and common to all societies"), so that in the agglomerate thus achieved the gaps, segregations, and multiple conflicts born of separation and the division of labor will be buried in conflict: the conflict between classes, the conflict between city and countryside, the conflict between society and the State, classical ones since Marx, and to which one might add the many interregional "disparities" of which the current conflict between developed and underdeveloped countries is only the pathological exaggeration. The "ruse of history" is nevertheless such that the apparent early successes of this policing arrangement, an attenuation of the class struggle (in the former sense) and of the antagonism between city and countryside, disguise less and less the radical and hopeless proletarianization of the huge majority of the population, condemned to "live" in the uniform conditions that constitute the bastardized and spectacular "urban" milieu born of the break-up of the city, one that, combined with the antagonism between State and society, thereby reinforced and so alarming to the sociologists ("We must establish new channels of communication between the authorities and the population" — Chombart de Lauwe, Le Monde, July 13, 1965), betrays the literally "unreasonable" nature of the process of "rationalizing" the reification in progress, while assuring it all sorts of problems, perfectly "irrational" ones from its bureaucratic and alienated point of view, but no less well-founded from the standpoint of the dialectical reasoning inherent in all living reality, all Praxis. As Hegel clearly saw, if only to congratulate himself on it, in the rule of modern States, the State allows the pseudofreedom of the individual to develop, while maintaining the coherence of the whole, and it draws from this antagonism an infinite strength, which normally turns out to be its Achilles' heel when a new coherence, radically antagonistic to such an order of things, is established and strengthened. Moreover, any coherent and "successful" arrangement must be imposed all over the planet in a widespread urbanism that means reducing the phenomenon of underdevelopment, as potentially disturbing to the impossible equilibrium being pursued. But, as though inadvertently, and in a fatal fidelity to itself, capitalism finds itself making war on underdeveloped countries instead of its touted war on underdevelopment, caught as it is in the trap of contradictory, but for it equally vital, demands, and thereby destroying its own claims to survival: all its technocratic-cybernetic "programmings." Such a dialectic promises a rude awakening to the rulers of the present prehistoric world who dreamed of putting themselves beyond reach while burying us under a wall of cement that will surely end by being our own tomb.
The arrangement, in this perspective, should also be seen as the death throes of communication in the old limited, but real, sense, the residue of which is everywhere hunted down by Power for the benefit of information. Henceforth a "universal communications network" radically suppresses the distance between things while indefinitely increasing the distance between people. Circulation in such a network ends by neutralizing itself, in such a way that the future solution will consist in making people circulate less and information circulate more. People will stay home, transformed into mere audiovisual "receivers" of information: an attempt to perpetuate in practice the current — i.e., bourgeois — economic categories, in order to create the conditions for a permanent and automatic functioning of the present alienated society, "a more smoothly running machine" (Le Monde, 4 June 1964). The economists' "perfect market" is impossible, especially from the fact of distance: a perfectly rational economy would have to be concentrated at a single point (instantaneous Production and Consumption); if the market is not perfect, that would be due to the imperfection of the world itself, causing the developers to work hard to make the world perfect. Real-estate development is a metaphysical enterprise in search of a neo-feudal space. The planners' Grand Oeuvre, their search for the philosophers' stone, means the situation of a space without surprises, where the map would be everything and the territory nothing, because it has been completely effaced and is no longer important, justifying too late the "architecture" of those imbecile semanticists who claim to deliver you from the tyranny of Aristotle, from "A is not Not-A," as though it had been established for centuries that "A becomes Not-A."
This is so true today that one no longer "consumes" space, which tends to become uniform, but time. the American who goes around the world from one Hilton hotel to another without ever seeing any variation in setting, except superficially as imitation local color, thus integrated and reduced to a gimmick, clearly prefigures the itineraries of the multitude. The conquest of space, as an "adventure" reserved for an "elite" and resounding spectacularly all over the planet, will be organized and foreseeable compensation. But, through the expedient colonization of space, Power intends to "draw on the future," to "take a long-term view," which means emptying time of its substance (our achievements in the course of a History) in order to cut it up into perfectly inoffensive slices, devoid of any unforeseeable "future" not programmed by its machines. The aim is the constitution of a gigantic contrivance designed to "recycle" linear time for the benefit of an expurgated and "shrunken" time, the mechanical time of machines, without history, and which would combine the pseudocyclical time of the quotidian with a universalized neo-cyclical time, the time of passive acceptance and forced resignation to the permanence of the present order of things.
It must be said: "alienation and oppression in society cannot be arranged, according to any of their variation, but only rejected totally along with that society itself" (I.S. 4, p.36) 1 . The task of reunifying time and space in a free construction of the individual and social time-space belongs to the coming revolution: the overthrow of the "developers" will coincide with a decisive transformation of everyday life, and it will be that transformation.
Translated by John Shepley. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/perspectives.html